About Me

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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The raw and the cooked

Arsenal edged a third successive win last night, beating Olympiakos 2-1 in an entertaining open game. With Arsenal fielding what could almost pass for a Carling Cup XI, such were their injury problems, this was quite predictable although the opening ten minutes suggested a smooth ride for the Gunners.
Mikel Arteta in particular was given the freedom of the midfield from the kick off and it was no surprise when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who already looks set to eclipse Theo Walcott, scored the opening goal. This delighted the person sitting next to me who must have been related to Harry Enfield's Arsenal loving kebab seller Stavros. The night was initially punctuated by his shouts of "come on Alex my boy" in a strong southern European accent, which soon became overshadowed with his interjections of "bloody hell Arsenal" as Olympiakos fought their way back into the game. Still after Arteta had cleared off the line, Andre Santos doubled the lead. 

The Greeks soon pulled one back when they exploited Arsenal's achilles heel, the set piece, David Fuster heading home from a short corner. The goal, coupled with some great fist pumping action from the away fans, was all the encouragement Olympiakos needed to go in search of an equaliser. They went close on more than one occasion and throughout the second half it seemed another goal for either team was likely but there was no further score.
For Arsenal three important points towards qualification for the knockout stages and some valuable experience for raw youngsters like Chamberlain and Frimpong. I'm yet to be convinced by any of the deadline day signings with Santos particularly disappointing from a defensive viewpoint, Dani Alves he ain't. Add in the likes of Tomas Rosicky, Marouane Chamakh and Andrey Arshavin all off their game to some degree and its clear that the Arsenal recovery has a long way to go yet.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Deep Blue Day

An afternoon to forget yesterday. One that would have been better spent wandering around Westfield, it really was that bad. The blue theme began when I stepped onto the train at Shepherd's Bush. There was barely standing room on board as it was full of Chelsea fans going to their game at Stamford Bridge. However I was surrounded by blue shirts once more on arrival at Gander Green Lane as wearing one seemed to be a way of gaining entry to that modern footballing beast, the family fun day. Hardly surprising as I was in Surrey and good to see a larger than usual number watching their local team. I draw the line though at the liberal distribution of a device which made a vuvuzela type sound which destroyed any chance of atmosphere. Perhaps this was part of an African theme with Sutton fielding a mascot dressed as a giraffe but the kick off saw the game as a sideshow to everything else going on at the Borough sports ground which had the feeling of a summer fete with a football match going on somewhere in the middle.
Sutton took charge from the word go, with Maidenhead barely making it past the halfway line in the first forty minutes. With Sutton manager Paul Doswell fielding a cast of ex Eastleigh players, Maidenhead's poor record against the Spitfires crossed my mind, and by the break it felt like one of our many defeats against the Hampshire club.
Maidenhead's shortcomings were the inability of the midfield and attack to keep the ball and thus relieve pressure on a makeshift defence. This created the environment for Sutton to ruthlessly turn the defensive errors that ensued into goals. The first saw a stray pass picked up by Craig Watkins whose shot was saved by Sam Beasant only for Watkins to pick up the loose ball again to finish from close range in the seventh minute. He doubled the score ten minutes later when he nonchalantly finished at the far post from a Leroy Griffiths cross from the right.
Any doubt about the destination of the points was removed ahead of half time when Sutton scored two more goals to notch up the Magpies' fourth four goal deficit this season. The first came from the penalty spot, a soft award given for a challenge by Bobby Behzadi on Anthony Riviere, Watkins taking the opportunity to complete a thirty minute hat trick. Then to thoroughly depress the Maidenhead mood the final goal of the half followed a Magpies attack which saw a Max Worsfold cross find Anthony Thomas whose shot grazed the crossbar. The ball then moved swiftly to the other end where Griffiths caught Beasant off his line with a lob which hit the inside of the post and was flagged as a goal despite a Marcus Rose clearance.
This passage of play was a dress rehearsal for an open second half after an interval which saw the visiting Met Police contingent focus on monitoring celebrity penalty taker Tim Vine's criminal use of puns leaving Drax to deal with the felonious first half performance from the Magpies. Thus Gordon Strachan and everyone else in the bumper four figure crowd had, despite just the one goal, a more entertaining second half to enjoy.
The Maidenhead front six showed much greater invention and desire in the second period, creating enough chances to mount an unlikely comeback. This change in performance was typified by Will Hendry and Ashan Holgate whose machinations provided opportunities aplenty for the likes of Martel Powell and Andrew Fagan. Worsfold came closest to scoring when he hit the post  before Anthony Thomas pulled one back as the hour mark approached. However this resurgence was counterbalanced by further chances for Sutton, Harry Beautyman hitting the post following a good save by Beasant from Joel Ledgister. So by the final whistle the depression was barely lifted as I made my way back home to West London through the blue hordes trailing away from the Bridge.
So with twelve league games gone the first chapter of the season closes with Maidenhead United in a satisfactory mid table position, the joy of some great wins tempered by the scale of the defeats which call to mind John Dreyer's first season when a similar placing was achieved despite regular thumpings. Two games a week over a six week period has taken its toll in suspensions and injuries which will have a real bearing on selection in the second quarter of the campaign up to the festive season with the nature of the fixture list largely dictated by the two FA competitions.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Taming of the Shrews

Could Arsenal's start to the season get any worse? It would cost just £10 to find out as they took on Shrewsbury Town in the League Cup.Taking my seat thirteen rows behind the Town dugout, the aura of excitement, usually so prevalent on these cut price evenings which allow many a rare opportunity to watch an Arsenal game live, was in short supply save from the massed ranks of the Shrewsbury fans behind one goal who needed little prompting to remind everyone of the strange name of their region, Salop.
With the ground little more than two thirds full, an early goal was required to lift the atmosphere. In the opening ten minutes Arsenal scarcely went into their own half as Marouane Chamakh was twice denied by goalkeeper Ben Smith. Having survived the early onslaught though Shrewsbury took the game to their hosts, serving notice of their intent by hitting the post before Jamie Collins opened the scoring with a header. Cue much celebration at the Town end and a smidgen of congratulation all round for their manager Graham Turner, a great unsung hero of the lower divisions with a managerial career spanning over twenty years.
Naturally the goal also sparked a few boos and panic from the Arsenal ranks, with Shrewsbury continuing to dominate. In particular Town defender Reuben Hazell looked like a chip of his old uncle Bob. The tide turned when Francis Coquelin ran half the length of the pitch to make a great tackle in his own area, and thanks to Smith fumble Arsenal drew level when Kieran Gibbs' header crept in at the near post.
In the second half a powerful strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain completed the comeback before Yossi Benayoun capped a good night's work with a third.
Game over and the post mortem in Che Guevara's produced the consensus of a good night for Ignasi Miquel, Benayoun and Coquelin. However Johann Djourou despite being captain looked a man broken by his Old Trafford experience, as did Carl Jenkinson, whilst Ju Young Park gave little cause for optimism. Still job done and the chance of another cheap night out in the next round.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

PNE's future's bright Phil Brown's orange

Phil Brown is one of those marmite personalities so prevalent in football. Equal parts admirable for what he achieved with Hull and derisible for his attention grabbing antics. Thus I had mixed feelings when he was given the job at Preston, a club I will always have a lot of time for. Relegation last season was inevitable prior to his arrival at Deepdale and I was surprised to see PNE highly tipped to bounce back with promotion at the first attempt but this early season optimism has been justified with a fine run of wins.
I last saw a Brown team play when Hull travelled to Arsenal for an FA Cup Quarter Final tie in North London. Hull were first out of the blocks and took a deserved lead but with the Gunners there for the taking Brown ordered the Tigers to sit back and kill time. Inevitably this came back to haunt them as Arsenal won the game with two late but the match hit the headlines for the wrong reasons when Brown and his assistant Brian Horton got involved in a post match incident with non playing captain Cesc Fabregas. So Brown's fate was sealed in my eyes as a chancer looking for publicity to mask his shortcomings.
Horton was equally damned by association but his role in yesterday's match at that West London football theme park in Brentford was cast in a positive light many years ago as it was whilst he was manager of Manchester City that he signed current Bees manager Uwe Rosler. With Brentford also showing early season promise the afternoon offered the opportunity for an exciting Football League encounter. So when invited to join old friends at the game I needed little encouragement to pick this fixture over a schlep down Welling High Road to Maidenhead's game against the Wings.
It was many years since I had visited Griffin Park and I had forgotten what a good, if a little expensive, day out at the match it presents. The word of the day was convenience. I was able to jump on a bus at the end of my road for a short trip down the A4 where I would find a welcoming pub to get something to eat, down a few beers and take in the early TV game. The three pints of Fullers Red Fox went down a treat with the unsubtly branded Victory burger in the Lord Nelson, but I was left with my head in my hands at the abject display by the Gunners at Blackburn. The pub filled up nicely with home fans, all proudly wearing red and white striped shirts of various vintages, and so we moved onto the main event at Griffin Park.
A short walk to the ground felt like entering a time machine as the best aspects of pre Sky football were on display. There were emptying pubs on every corner of the ground as fans of both teams wandered up to the turnstiles, offered up the requisite in admission in cash then proceeded unmolested by stewards to take their seat or place on the terrace as they wished. Football as it was, football as it should be.
I lost the vote in our gang of three so we headed for the covered home end which felt comfortably full. The best aspect of Griffin Park is the way all four sides of the ground sit tightly next to the pitch so a crowd of just over six thousand produced a good atmosphere for a suitably competitive game.
The scoreline of 3-1 slightly flattered Preston but they were worthy of three points with Brown winning the tactical battle over Rosler in a performance which saw the Lillywhites attack quickly and ruthlessly. Throughout the game they were always a shade better than the Bees who nevertheless worked hard to stay in the game until the third North End goal effectively sealed the result with seventeen minutes left.
Preston's superiority hinged on a midfield diamond which saw Graham Alexander screening the defence to allow Iain Hume a free role behind the front two. In contrast Brentford's more rigid structure saw them gain ground steadily without the snap of Preston's fast counter attacking to create chances. One of the first of these moves saw Mellor cut in from the left to shrug off a defender and score with a fine finish. Brentford soon responded when my ex student Marcus Bean played in Myles Weston on the right wing whose run and cross gave Nial McGinn the opportunity to equalise. 
Preston regained the lead just after the half hour mark when the Brentford defence gave Hume the time and space to score with a terrific shot from outside the penalty area. The second half saw Brentford push hard to get back on level terms but it was Preston who scored final goal of the game when a well worked free kick routine saw my wife's ex student Clarke Carlisle at the far post head the ball back across the face of the goal where Mellor was waiting to lash the ball home. Three points and a sixth consecutive win for Preston who on this evidence will mount a strong promotion challenge worthy of a team containing the likes of Carlisle, Alexander, Mellor and Hume. Brentford may well stay around the upper reaches of mid table but will always present a great opportunity to show anyone under the age of twenty what an afternoon watching professional football should entail, finished off of course by a return to the pub to chew over the day's action.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Captain Kirk leads Weston to boldly go

Maidenhead United v Weston-super-mare had become an utterly predictable fixture, with a fourth goalless draw in five York Road meetings only being averted by a stoppage time Lee Barney winner last season. This was largely due to Weston adopting a typically Southern League attitude of thou shalt not pass with Maidenhead lacking the guile to break down a ten man defence.
Having surprised many last season by effectively transplanting a Bridgwater team into the Alliance South from the lower reaches of the Southern League, Craig Laird now looks to shaping up his team for a tilt at the play offs. The sheer lack of height in the Seagulls line up suggested that the hoof to the trees philosophy had disappeared and so it was proved as they ran out 3-1 winners.
For their part Maidenhead were missing midfielders Craig Taylor and Will Hendry, with a lack of suitable replacements leading to the Magpies fielding a very attacking line up, with a predictably disjointed look. However with United in fine form with thirteen points from the last five games, the first half was a tight affair with both sides showing much attacking intent without end product. The exception to this was Weston captain Ben Kirk's startling strike from distance to break the deadlock midway through the first half. Kirk hobbled off injured before the interval but had set the game up nicely for his team.
After the restart Weston had a good claim for a penalty turned down which cancelled out two half claims earlier on by Maidenhead and seemed to have sealed the points when Jamie Price finished off a neat free kick in the 63rd minute.
Maidenhead struck back quickly though when Manny Williams capitalised on a collision between the Weston goalkeeper and a defender to apply a sweet finish to score. The diminutive striker should then have completed the comeback when Martel Powell supplied him with a pass inside the penalty area but Williams put his effort into the side netting.
Still there was plenty of time left with the referee rightly taking into account the Weston time wasting antics, particularly from the hectoring Kane Ingram. The man in the middle did not help himself by being all too ready to engage in conversation during the game but by indicating a minimum of seven minutes stoppage time ensured that the Somerset gamesmanship was accounted for. Drax threw on Nevin Saroya as a target man with time on the watch and although the keeper was beaten forcing a Weston defender to head off the line Maidenhead could not conjure up the equaliser so it was annoyingly Ingram who had the last word by scoring from a breakaway attack.

Sunday, 4 September 2011


Or as the marker above at Truro station more accurately put it 300 and 3/4 miles from London was the suitably novel journey facing me on non league day. Having made it to the top of the reverse L shape that is England to watch Maidenhead take on Blyth Spartans in the FA Trophy ten years ago, the promotion of Truro City to the Blue Square Bet South had presented the opportunity to travel to the westerly point with a first ever trip to Cornwall for the Magpies.
As I waited for the bus to take me to Paddington I received news of the Magpies that had already arrived in Truro, some by the Friday night sleeper train and as I approached Paddington I recalled the largely successful fortnightly trips to the west country during United's brief and ultimately glorious spell in the Southern League. Just how much further I would be travelling hit home when the train reached Tiverton in under two hours, the only Devon club Maidenhead faced in that promotion season. The lionshare of the journey was still to come with that great achievement of the nationalised railway, the High Speed Train being wasted as it crawled to my destination. Strange to think that this journey was unchanged in my lifetime although a Cornwall fixture would have been impossible without an overnight stop for the first century of organised football, a nice contrast with the previous Saturday's game against Staines, opponents for over a hundred years.
Still I wasn't alone with enough fans on this train to make up a team with those already in Truro. With the stunning coastal scenery between Exeter and Newton Abbot, time passed satisfactorily on a packed train although the grey mist shrouding Dartmoor gave no hope of an Indian Summer's day. Passing over the suitably battleship grey Royal Albert Bridge, the dark clouds deposited drizzle and on arrival in Truro there was nothing to lift the gloom thanks to a dull walk along the ring road to City's Treyew Road ground.
After some welcome pints of Tribute in the cosy clubhouse the approaching kick off lured me outside to a distinctly underwhelming ground that will need plenty of work on it to obtain the grading necessary to stay at this level of football. Clearly money had been spent on an impressive playing surface and the talent to play on it, but what surrounded it was a basic county league ground with a small stand and an almost complete lack of terracing which was particularly annoying as there was none under the only covered standing area. Two sides consisted of temporary seating (uncovered along the side, covered behind the goal) which gave credence to rumours circulating in the bar over a move to push the local authority into building a new stadium for both football and rugby club, a policy which had led to no little controversy surrounding Chairman Kevin Heaney which was augmented by his role in a protracted takeover of Plymouth Argyle. This had led to an internet campaign by Plymouth fans to disrupt the game but this proved to be nothing more than cyberchat, unlike goings on a the previous home game which had led to a seemingly knee jerk draconian ban on Truro Independent Supporters Merchandise being worn in the ground. This explained what proved to be an unnecessary police presence and so everyone was free to focus on the football.
The first half produced little incident but set the pattern for the second period with Truro looking dangerous from set pieces whilst Maidenhead looked most potent attacking down either flank. Some well timed interventions by Leigh Henry helped to stop the former whilst the Magpies couldn't quite conjure up a goal scoring opportunity with the latter.
This all changed within two minutes of the restart when Maidenhead took the lead with a well worked goal. A quickly taken free kick by Will Hendry went short to Bobby Behzadi who found Manny Williams heading for goal. Williams unselfishly laid the ball off to his right into the path of Martel Powell who stunned Truro keeper Tim Sandercombe with a delicate shot which went in at the near post.
This goal sparked a period of Maidenhead domination and they could have gone onto seal the points with Williams again pulling the strings to give Alex Wall the opportunity to strike a fierce shot which was parried by Sandercombe, Daniel Brown's follow up being deflected wide.
Truro then took the initiative, Scott Walker forcing a good save out of Lumley before beating him with a neat   free kick only to see the ball hit the inside of the post. The loose ball fell straight to Barry Hayles to equalise from close range and the points were up for grabs once more.
It was Maidenhead's classy counter attacks pivoting on the fulcrum of star man Williams that still looked most likely to produce a further goal and so it was that after the diminutive striker himself had been denied at close range by Sandercombe, he capitalised on great work from Brown and Powell to feed substitute Anthony Thomas on the left wing. Thomas then cut inside to unleash a shot from just inside the penalty area to beat Sandercombe with a strike worthy of three points.
Thus the final whistle sparked celebrations from the travelling Magpies as the players went off to a well deserved night out on the Cornish Riviera. Wandering back to the station  the day was made complete when my 50/1 treble of wins for Thurrock, Farnborough and Maidenhead was confirmed.
So the perfect non league day. A journey a bit too long to repeat but definitely one worth making yesterday.